The Top 30 Twin City Sidewalks Posts of 2016

[See also: the best of Twin City Sidewalks 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.]

Despite the dumpster fire, 2016 was a good year in sidewalk blogging, with over 200 posts of photos, words, and links to share. Here are my favorite two dozen or so. In roughly chronological order:

#30. Be the Driver You Wish To See in the World

A blogpost about how to become a better driver, one of a few of these I tried to write this year about the psychology of urban driving. I drive sometimes when I can borrow or rent (Hourcar) a car, and like every other person who drives, I have thoughts about it. When you do it so rarely, though, and when you spend so much time thinking about pedestrian and bicycling perspectives, driving becomes a learning experience. So here are some of my thoughts on how you can make safer streets in our city even if you personally don't ride a bike or take the bus.

#29. The Complete "Beer By The River Test" Rankings 

One of my "rankings" posts, this one based on a passing reference to the fact that the mayor wanted to be able to drink a beer by the river. As it turns out, I also often want to drink a beer by the river. So, based on years of river-beer experience, I put together this list of the best places for for drinking a beer near the river. It's not an inspiring list (though it did get better as the year went by, when Red River Kitchen opened up).

#28. Mister Rogers the Anti-NIMBY

Something I've been meaning to write for years, some thoughts on Mister Rogers and how he relates to urbanism. Sometimes people's negative attitudes about change, young people, and the state of the world get me down. And Mister Rogers, relentlessly positive and optimistic about humanity, offers a salve for negativity. Plus he lives in Pittsburgh and likes streetcars.

#27. Why I Love the Green Line: an Open Letter to my Fort Road Neighbors 

After I saw the anti-transit posters start to go up on West 7th Street, including in the windows of some of my favorite businesses in the city, I felt compelled to lay out why I think we desperately need transit investment and street design changes on West 7th. The status quo is terrible, and unless you get out of your car, you never really understand how revolutionary good quality transit can be fore people. Here was my best attempt to convince folks that we need change along the Riverview corridor. (And yes, I do love the Green Line!)

#26. Five Statues of Liberty of Saint Paul

[Nothing says "freedom" like paying out your ass for your refund.]
Another thing I've been thinking about for years, ever since I first noticed a wooden statue of liberty in Crocus Hill, and then another on Railroad Island. This is part of my ongoing "numbers of things" countdown series of blogposts, along with the outdoor pop machines.

#25. Is the Highland Villager Accountable for its Misleading Anti-Bike Lane Advertisement?

One of two hot-take reaction pieces based on something bike-related in the Highland Villager. In this one, I pull apart an advertisement by a local anti-bike-lane pro-parking resident who apparently had a few grand to blow on a large advertisement in a local newspaper that I'm fond of reading. Anyway, the ad was RIDONKOULOUS, complete with badly-drawn cartoon, and I felt absolutely compelled to debunk it to my best ability.

#24. Union Depot, Public Space Petri Dish, Still Waiting on Actual Trains

An homage to the Union Depot, which is a great train station with only one problem. I go to SPUD (the acroymn) a lot and hang out there, and like hanging out there. But I always get sad when I imagine what it must have been like in the 1940s when there were hundreds of trains a day going to all corners of the state and the country. In fifty years, we might be lucky to have three.

#23. The Other Thing about the Saint Paul Cop “Run Them Over” Story

I'm really interested in the intersection of political protest and the built environment, and there's was an interesting moment of this in early 2016 where a cop put on Facebook that people should run over a #blacklivesmatter demonstration. Vehicular violence is something that we absolutely ignore in our society, and so this moment revealed for me how blunt this fact has become in our society. In a way, driving car is a license to kill.


A reaction to a local political gadfly's reaction to the proposed and pending Minnesota United soccer stadium at the Snelling-Univeristy Midway site. In general, I am opposed to stadium subsidies. But if there ever was going to be a stadium deal that was actually good for a city and a neighborhood, this is what it would look like. So I thought I'd add some context to the conversation that was taking place, and tried to do so using a tone (and ALL CAPS MEDIUM) that matched the conversation that preceded it.

#21. The Irreplacable Loss of Stu and Stasny's

One of the saddest stories in Saint Paul this year was the tragic North End fire that devastated my old neighborhood, killing one butcher and obliterating a popular century-old shop. I lived two doors down from this butcher shop for seven years, and it was one of my late uncle's absolute favorite places. When I heard about the fire and the death, I was heartbroken, and wanted to share my thoughts to the best of my ability.

#20. TCS interviews Lars Christiansen, Urban Sociologist and Civic Engagement Pioneer

This is one of my long-form interviews, with a good friend of mine and urban social science colleague, Lars. I have wonderful conversations like this from time, but only rarely do I take the time (and it takes a LOT of time) to transcribe them. Lars is smart, thoughtful, and a great listener, and hearing him talk about Saint Paul streets is a treat that simply must be shared.

#19. Interview with Dan Ibarra, Graphic Designer and Student of Everyday Life, about Caution Car Approaching Klaxons

[You can hear it in your head, can't you?]
Another long-form interview, and it's no exagguration to say that this one has been a long time coming. I first taped this intrerview with Dan Ibarra back in 2012 (I think). It was originally supposed to be for the streets.mn podcast, but I screwed up the audio and it wasn't of high enough quality too use. But I stil had the recording of the wonderful conversation, about Ibarra's art project on the "CAUTION CAR APPROACHING" klaxons. So I finally transcribed it, and then went out and recorded some of the announcements at various parking lots around Minneapolis, to illustrate the piece. Trust me, this is the definitive work on CAUTION CAR APPROACHING klaxons that you will find on the internets.

#18. Another Predictable Tragedy in a Maryland Avenue Crosswalk

I am in the habit of writing about the stakes of street design each time someone is killed walking or biking in the Twin Cities. This is another one of these moments, after Elizabeth Durham was killed on a four-lane death road (Maryland Avenue, one of the worst!) after dropping her kid off on the school bus. It was and is horrible! This article isn't great, but it's important.

#17. Saint Paul in 1989 Revisited

One of my favorite pieces, based on an obscure poster that hangs in the bathroom in my dad's farmhouse in Martell, Wisconsin. The poster is from 1989 and has illustrations and drawings of downtown Saint Paul shops. Many of these shops are long gone, and I did my best at trying to figure out what had become of the old illustrated landscape. Some of the old city is still clinging on!

#16. The Revenant Rabbithole and Minnesota's Missing History

This is the 2016 piece that I probably spent the most time on, and took the most care in crafting. After watching The Revenant, I started getting curious about Minnesota's Native American history. I read a few books about it, talked to a bunch of people, and this blogpost is the result. Once you start thinking about Minnesota's Dakota genocide, nothing ever looks quite the same again. It's very unsettling, but I believe coming to terms with the violence of our shared cultural past is something that we all need to do.

#15. At the Very Least, Stop Stopping Climate Change Solutions

This was one of those "off the cuff" posts that proved to be popular. One day I just got depressed and angry about climate change, and especially people who continue to lead environmentally devastating lives as the ice caps continue to melt faster and faster. I joke a lot about parking, but seriously... we need to stop burning fossil fuels yesterday. It's not OK. Quitcherbiching and start being part of a solution. Here's a list to help.

#14. Ranking the Saints Ushertainers

[Seigo Masabushi.]
Another blogpost that I was thinking about for a few years. This is simply a ranking of the "ushertainers" (e.g. The Nerd, Coach, The Chef). I go to a lot of Saints games and did some rough analysis. Of course it's B.S., but hey, why not? Anyone who takes the Saints too seriously is missing the point anyway.

#13. End of the Line for The Terminal Bar's Flem Shows how Dives Are Precious

Another poignant eulogy, this time based on my work on Twin Cities dive bars. In this case, it came after the death of a guy who had been running the same little hole in the wall for a half-century. One of the reasons why I write and give tours about dive bars is that nobody else seems to care much about these places. But a spot like the Terminal Bar has an amazing story to tell, and is just as much part of our history as more famous places like monuments or mansions. (Stay tuned for an update on this soon!)

#12. Is It OK to Protest on a Freeway?

A think-piece on the politics of freeways, protest, and public space. This is going to continue to be a huge issue, both locally and nationally. What is the relatoinship between the automobile and racism? Between regional and local claims on public spaces like roads or rail tracks? I fear that, as Trump takes office and takes off the shackles of state violence, as our society continues to become polarized and segregated, these kinds of demonstrations and actions will be more common. But sometimes connecting the dots around infrastructure and racism is exactly what we need to do if we want to change the conversation.

#11. Saint Paul as Westeros

A fun piece, a follow up to my earlier Harry Potter map, based on the House Stark flag I saw on Summit Avenue. It's a Saint Paul/Westeros mash-up map. I almost got it right, too, except that Kings Landing is actually in Targaryen and not in Baratheon. Whoopsies! I don't care.

#10. Interview with John Ohl, Recently Retired Police Chief of Saint Anthony

[Interviewing the chief.]
Certainly the most politically important and widely-read piece I put on the site this year, a long-form transcription of an interview I did with the Police Chief of Saint Anthony before the tragic shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights by the Saint Anthony Police. In the interview, the Chief flat out states that there are no problems in policing in general, and in the department, in particular. After Castile was killed, I knew I had to put this online, and I did. It was national news for a hot second. The story is still really important and unresolved.

#9. The Slow Joy of Bicycle Touring

A poetic description htat poppedinto my head, congealing thoughts I'd had on a long weekend bike tour. I was lucky enough to go on a few multi-day bike rides this year and it's a wonderful experience. One of its great joys is that the pace allows you to really dwell in your thoughts. When you do, things like this come out. These posts are my favorite kind of writing to write.

#8. Introducing the Twin Cities Original Chains Map

A map of original places that are now locally-based chains, e.g. the "original" Dunn Brothers coffee shop on Snelling and Grand where I'm typing this "best of" post right now. I crowd-sourced a list of chains and then researched where the original one was located. It's kind of interesting. For example, did you know the first Super America was on East 7th in Lowertown, Saint Paul? Look for this to be updated next year.

#7. Six More Thoughts You Have While Sitting in a Slightly Less Vacant Lot next to the High Bridge for Two Hours

My annual "two-hour bike/walk count" post, which has become a tradition for me. Maybe I should sit around for two hours watching people go by more often, because it always provides food for thought. In this case, I ended thinking a lot about speed, society, and the high bridge. There's a certain phase transition involving public space and human interaction that I'm very interested in catalyzing. This is the closest I've come to properly describing it.

#6. New Cleveland Bike Lanes Bring Saint Paul Closer Together

If 2015 was the year of fighting about Saint Paul bike lanes, 2016 was the year of actually getting to ride in them. And let me tell you, there was something truly amazing about riding in the Cleveland bike lanes for the first time and experiencing the magic that a tiny bit of paint can create for someone on a bicycle. I did my best here to describe the strange geographic nuance that the new lanes revealed for me. It was like a spatial magic trick. Hooray for Saint Paul!

#5. Minneapolis, Saint Paul Separating on Skyways

Thoughts on the divergent futures of the "skyways to nowhere" in both downtowns. If there's one topic besides sidewalks that I've dwelt on in this blog, it's skyways. You'll find more information and opinions about skyways here than just about anywhere else on the internet. And I really do believe that the two downtowns, despite what you might hear, are headed in different directions when it comes to skyways. This was my most optimistic attempt at making the case why Saint Paul is doing skyways right.

#4. Notes from the Empire Builder III

The only thing I like better than writing about long bike rides is writing about long train rides while actually riding the train. I got to take a train trip out to Boston and back this fall, and here are my notes about it. It's the third in a series, and let's just say that, once again, the Empire Builder did not disappoint. This is my favorite.

#3. Reading the Highland Villager Op-Ed Extra #11

OK so I write this while on the Empire Builder too. It's a snarky transcription and diatribe about one of the most idiotic pieces that has ever appeared in the Highland Villager. I just had to share it, and do my best to debunk and mock the points of this man, Roger, who somehow believes that bikes should be licensed or something. Enjoy catharsis.

#2. On Cities and Trump

[Happy New Year!]
After the election, and after the post-election hangover subsided, I went into despair like many others. Not that I was a Clinton fan, but goddamn. Here is my long-winded effort to understand and think through some of the consequences. Oof da. I still thing these things -- devolution, separation, conflict between governmental scales -- are more likely than not to come to pass. Next year's "best of" list might look bleak indeed.

#1. Safe Streets Still a Social Justice Issue in Saint Paul

Another sidewalk death post-mortem, this time about a Kareni immigrant who was killed crossing the street not far from where I used to live. This kind of thing needs to stop. We can do it if we change our attitudes about what role the car has in our lives and cities. We need to do this at the local level, city by city. I hope I don't have to write any of these next year.

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